24/7/05 Evensong Acts 12:1-17
Two men were talking together. The first challenged the other, "If you are so religious, let's hear you quote the Lord's Prayer. I bet you £10.00 you can't."
The second responded, "Now I lay my down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take."
The first pulled out his wallet and got out a ten pound note, muttering, "I didn't think you could do it!"
Today's reading is about the importance of getting our prayers right.
Peter, James and John had been Jesus' leadership team. He singled them out from the other disciples, for example he took them up the mountain for the Transfiguration.
Herod Agrippa I, the King of Palestine, had Jewish blood and tried to gain favour with the Jews by persecuting the church. He acted during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a seven-day celebration that began on the day after Passover each spring. This was one of the three yearly feasts in Jerusalem that the Mosaic Law required all Jewish males to attend. The city would have been swarming with patriotic Jews when Herod made his grandstand political move of arresting Peter. However, the feast meant Peter couldn't be tried and executed until it had ended.
This was the third arrest of Peter that Luke recorded (cf. 4:3; 5:18) and the second time he had been freed by an angel ( 5:19 ).
12:4 Four squads of four soldiers guarded Peter in six-hour shifts so he would not escape as he had done previously. Two of the soldiers on each shift chained themselves to Peter and the other two guarded his cell door (vv. 6, 10). It was normal for just one to be handcuffed to a prisoner.
Thomas Watson is reported as saying; "The angel fetched Peter out of prison, but it was prayer fetched the angel."
Peter went directly to a home where he may have known that Christians would be praying for him. This was the house of Mary the mother of John Mark who was the man who accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (13:5). According to early church tradition he wrote the Gospel that bears his name, served as Peter's interpreter in Rome, and founded the church in Alexandria, Egypt.
The church was praying without ceasing for Peter in the inner part of what was obviously a larger house. When Peter came to the outer door Rhoda, the servant girl was so emotional she failed to open the door! The believers were clearly far from confident that their prayers would be answered because they called into question her sanity! This rather amusing incident goes to show that our prayer may be answered because of boldness in asking and the will of God, rather than because we are certain our prayer will be answered.
Ultimately, we may not know why some prayers are answered and others are not. After all John, the brother of James, was executed by Herod. Why did God allow this but release Peter? We cannot say anything other than it was part of God's plan. We have to trust him, but we also need to seek him in prayer.
Yoido Full Gospel Church is a Pentecostal Church in Seoul, South Korea. It had 780 000 members in 2003 and is in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest known congregation in christendom.
The church is built on two principles. Cell group and intercessory prayer. Cell groups are small groups for worship, teaching, prayer and outreach. "Prayer Mountain" is a piece of rural land bought by the church and devoted to intercessory prayer. As many as 10,000 Christians can go and shut themselves away in purpose-built prayer cells cut into the hillside, and spend hours, days or weeks seeking God's face and claiming His changing power for people and situations. An estimated one million Christians throughout South Korea pray simultaneously at any daylight hour on any given day.
In Chapter 5 after Peter had been freed from prison by an angel he returned to the temple to resume preaching at the Lord's command (5:19-21). Now the Jews were much more hostile to the Christians. Saul had previously left Jerusalem for his own safety (9:29-30), and this time Peter followed his example. Prayers have to be accompanied by common sense yet prayer is more powerful than prison or the sword.
Soon after this Herod perished when he failed to give praise to God, was struck down by an angel of God and eaten by worms ( 12:23 ). Josephus, a contemporary historian of Luke, also records this. In contrast the church continued to grow and prosper through prayer.
Dr. Wilbur Chapman related his experience when, as a young man, he went to become pastor of a church in Philadelphia. After his first sermon, an old gentleman said to him, "You're pretty young to be pastor of this church. But you preach the Gospel, and I'm going to help you all I can." Dr. Chapman thought, "Here's a crank." But the man continued: "I'm going to pray for you that you may have the Holy Spirit's power upon you. Two others have covenanted to join with me in prayer for you."
Dr. Chapman said, "I didn't feel so bad when I learned he was going to pray for me. The 3 became 10, the 10 became 20, and 20 became 50, the 50 became 200 who met before every service to pray that the Holy Spirit might come upon me. I always went into my pulpit feeling that I would have the anointing in answer to the prayers of those who had faithfully prayed for me. It was a joy to preach! The result was that we received 1,100 into our church by conversion in three years, 600 of whom were men. It was the fruit of the Holy spirit in answer to prayer!"